Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

How Do You Describe Possible Social Networking Services To Your Association's Members?

By Dennis D. McDonald

I recently helped an association client with an “online focus group.” In this approach to exploratory research a series of questions is asked of a recruited group of geographically distributed members via a series of interactive web-delivered question-and-answer sessions.

Once a question is asked and then answered by each member, the other participants’ answers to that same question can then be seen by all. Further replies and comments among the “group members” are then possible. Participants have the option of making their own questions and comments either visible to all participants or only to the moderator.

One of the investigation’s goals is to obtain member reactions to the offering by the association of a “social networking” service.

While the online survey system incorporates a within-browser window where linked applications can be displayed, we needed to prepare an introductory description of “social networking” that is (a) general enough to cover a variety of options still under consideration, (b) specific enough to generate meaningful reactions, and (c) understandable to a group representing a wide range of experiences with social networking (i.e., total novices through Facebook Fanatics).

If you’ve ever designed questionnaires for use in surveys you know how easy it is for people to misinterpret words and phrases that describe potentially complex topics. Plus, speaking practically, you can’t really control the interaction between the words and the memories and impressions that are already in the participant’s head. Often development of survey questions then becomes  balancing act between over-specificity on one hand and over-generality on the other.

Here is the list of descriptions we generated to introduce the concepts to the participants; what do you think?

Some of you are already familiar with the online “social networks” that many people are using these days, such as Facebook, MySpace, and (for professionals) Linkedin.

I’d like to get your feedback on whether the Association should establish a private “professional social network” for the use of its members. Here are some possible features:

PROFILE PAGE. When a member joins the network, the member creates a “profile page” that includes basic career, employment, and — if desired — personal information. This profile page lets other members know about the member’s interests and skills in a form that can be easily searched and viewed..

QUESTION FORUM. When a member has a problem or question related to a work or professional topic, the member can post it to a central “question forum” that can viewed and searched by other members. Members are then free to post an answer  to the question online or — if preferred  —  can email or phone the questioner directly.

WORKING GROUPS. Members of the network will be able to establish temporary “working groups” of selected members where they can communicate online, post documents, files, or videos, and carry on online discussions. Group managers can decide whether they want their discussions visible to other members or not.

FEEDS AND SUBSCRIPTIONS. Members in their profile page can indicate whether they want to be notified whenever a new member with similar interests joins their network or when someone in a working group posts something of interest to them.

RANKING AND RATING. When members read something that another members have posted in the general question forum or in a working group, they can vote “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to indicate their like or dislike for the item. These votes will be automatically tallied and posted for view by other members.


This article has also been published on the Social Media Today web site. 

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